Take a freshly made, golden brown bun, cut the top off. Scoop out the centre of the bun and fill it with a delicate, soft almond and marzipan paste flavoured with vanilla. Cover the paste with lightly sweetened whipped cream before placing the top back on and dusting the whole creation with icing sugar. Sounds delicious? Well it is.
This is the very traditional Swedish semla. It originated a long time ago and was only eaten on one day of the year- the day before the Lenten fast begun. The Lent was a six week long christian fast ending on Easter Sunday. Preparing for this meant loads of very fatty food were consumed on this day – always on a Tuesday. The day is still known as Fettisdagen, or Fat Tuesday.
Nowadays, semla is more or less the only thing that reminds us about this out drawn fast. And this almond and cream bun is sold and eaten for 3-4 months out of the year, rather than on this one very special day. It’s not bad though for a little bun to gain it’s own day. If you happen to be in Sweden tomorrow, on February 9th, which is Fettisdagen this year, go ahead and treat yourself. You can’t escape them this time of year. Enjoy it with a rich dark coffee or a nice cup of your favourite tea.
For the buns:
1 1/4 cup milk
50g fresh yeast (5 tsp dry)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp horthornsalt
1 2/3 cup cake and pastry flour
2 cups all purpose flour
For the marzipan filling:
Enough for 6 semlor ********?
200g almonds with skin
3/4 cup icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla paste or vanilla extract
1 egg white
1/4 cup whipping cream
centre of 3 buns
1 cup whipping cream
1 tbsp icing sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
In a small sauce pan, over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the milk and warm to a temperature of 98F (37C). Remove from the stove and add the yeast. Mix well and let stand for 10 min.
Meanwhile, in a blender add salt, sugar and egg. Beat well. Sift together horthornsalt and flour. Add the yeast to the egg mixture while stirring and then slowly add the flour, a little bit at a time. Touch the dough to feel if it is too sticky to handle. If too sticky, add a tbsp or more of flour until the dough can be handled. It’s very important not to add too much flour, or you will end up with really dry buns. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let the dough rest, in the bowl, for about 30 min.
Preheat oven to 485F.
Scoop the dough onto a flat surface dusted with flour. Kneed into a ball and divide into round balls, roughly 2″ diameter. Place on a baking sheet, cover and let rest for another 20-30 min. They are ready when you gently poke the buns and they spring back up. Brush them with lightly whisked egg. Bake in the middle of the oven for about 15 min or until golden. Transfer the buns to a rack and let cool. The buns can be stored in the freezer and thawed as needed.
Only prepare as many buns as you need.
Cut off the top of the buns, about 1/2 down. Pick out some of the bread in the centre of the bun, and crumble it into a bowl. Crumble Grate the marzipan into the bowl and add the sugar, cream and vanilla. Stir until you get an even paste. It should be quite loose, but not runny. Fill the centre of the buns with the marzipan filling.
Pipe or scoop some whipped cream on top of the filling and finally place the ‘lid’ back on. Dust with icing sugar and place on a serving platter.
Note: The traditional way of eating semlor is to start with the lid. Scoop some of the cream onto the lid and take a bite. Once the lid is gone, the rest of the bun can be eaten with knife and fork, but I prefer to see who manage to take a bite without getting the tip of their nose covered in whipped cream!